Fiscal Cliff Negotiation Stalemate: a Political Re-run Inexorably Poised to Go Off Fiscal Cliff?

Are we in rerun-season already? Are we now seeing a virtual replay of what occurred after President Barrack Obama’s 2008 election? That was when (1) the media talked about how his big victory meant we were heading into a new era of partisan cooperation (2)talk show hosts and conservative pundits soon dug in their heels (3)Republicans’ main goal seemed to be to check-mate almost anything Obama proposed (4)the GOP was increasingly under control of its most conservative, non-compromising Tea Party and talk show political culture members, (5) Republicans digging in their heels on the debt ceiling signalled a williness to use the nation’s economy as a political tool to press for ideological victory, (6) House Speaker John Boehner seemed on the verge of compromise in a “Grand Bargain” but quickly pulled back once it became clear he could be in political hot water with his members and they didn’t support the direction in which he was moving with Barack Obama.

It seems like that’s where we’re heading now:

  • There are few signs that as a political party many Republicans took the same lessons out of the 2012 elections that the vast majority of pundits and even some Republican analysts have taken out of it: the need to show itself to be more reasonable, more mainstream, more in attune with public opinion reflected in the voting results and in opinion polls.
  • Boehner again is shifting — should we say “twisting?” — slowly quickly, quickly in the political wind and at this writing his number one priority seems to be winning re-election to as Speaker, even if it means going over the fiscal cliff.
  • While Boehner is facing backlash from his party’s most conservative members, there are signs Obama is on the brink of facing some backlash from progressives for going too far in his attempt to get a compromise with GOPers.
  • What Obama is advocating on taxes is no surprise: even a jar of salsa on the shelf at Safeway market knows he advocated it during the election, he campaigned on it, and exit polls and other polls show Americans overwhelmingly support it
  • But one question is whether Obama has his focus. Obama was CORRECT in his press conference that after the trauma of the Sandy Hook, CT school massacre of adults and little children the last thing many in the country want is another tiresome, stressful, political cliff hanger complete with partisan rage and serious financial consequences for the nation. But he came under fire for raising the issue at his short presser. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank:

    Standing in the White House briefing room Wednesday afternoon, Obama observed that recommendation in unorthodox fashion, invoking the grade-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., to advance his agenda not just on gun control but on taxes, the debt limit, energy and immigration reform.

    “Goodness,” Obama said. “If there’s one thing we should have after this week, it should be a sense of perspective about what’s important.”

    And what’s important? “Right now what the country needs is for us to compromise, get a deficit-reduction deal in place, make sure middle-class taxes don’t go up,” the president said, adding to his wish list gun control and an end to debt-limit fights. “Focus on issues like energy, and immigration reform and all the things that will really make a determination as to whether our country grows.”

    It was an unfortunate juxtaposition and perhaps not what Obama intended when he walked into the briefing room with Vice President Biden to read a statement about last week’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The statement itself was powerful: He added much-needed urgency and specificity to his call for gun-control measures, signaling a push in the new year to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and to require background checks for all gun purchases..

    Part of the consensus is that in the end SOME kind of deal will be done — the question is: when? Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin, who often an step back from the ideological talk show and blogosphere type partisan ranks to give a cool assessment of a situation, says this:

    Well, look, to me, the critical moment, sometime, probably, in the next week, is when the President and Boehner get a deal, how that plays out afterwards. Again, in the old world of Washington, before grassroots and Twitter and everything else, the leaders would announce a deal and then they’d figure out a way to do a joint whip operation. The minute they get a deal it’s going to be picked apart by both sides. They’re going to have to, at that point, put aside the fact that their relationship has been so rough that there’s a lack of trust and a lack of respect, maybe, even and figure out a way, “How do we announce this in a way to make it possible, maybe likely, to get 218 votes.” That process of managing the public relations from the time they get a deal to the time it’s on the House floor is going to be critical and they’re going to have to cooperate there more than they have up until now.

    But the key question is: have the Republicans returned to the 2008 pattern? Is it still felt that if they can thwart Obama an electorate disgusted over inaction would defeat Democrats, Republicans would re-take the Senate, maintain the House and usher in a new Republican era in 2016? Some such as No More Mister Nice Blog think the answer is yes:

    Regardless of what polls say right now, Republicans don’t fear the electoral consequences to their party of a “fiscal cliff” failure or a debt-ceiling default or any other real or overhyped cataclysm. They just got through an election in which the Obama turnout model prevailed, but what’s coming up is a midterm election — and Democrats showed no ability to turn voters out in 2010, while Republicans used precisely this kind of air of crisis to turn their voters out. And not just Republican voters, but the craziest, angriest subgroup of that voter base, the folks who, even now, make up the 41% of their party that doesn’t want any compromise whatsoever.

    They believe gerrymandering will ensure that they hold the House no matter what they do, even if they blow the economy up. They think they’ll probably make gains in the Senate because they’re defending only one blue-state seat and Democrats are defending seven red-state seats.

    They saw how Scott Walker survived widespread public anger and a recall vote — and they know that last month’s election put the Wisconsin legislature completely in control of Republicans again, after legislative recall elections briefly tipped the Senate to the Democrats. And that was despite the Obama turnout machine’s efforts. So Republicans feel electorally bulletproof. They feel they can weather anything short of, say, a 70%-30% groundswell against their positions (and, alas, we’re nowhere near that) — they assume that when the anger dies down, they’ll just do the usual base-rallying, and all the angry white Foxheads and Limbaughnistas will save their hides yet again.

    First Read puts it into perspective (and you can see that “great minds think alike”)

    *** Is Boehner walking away — again? In July 2011, at the height of the White House-GOP talks over the debt-ceiling debate, House Speaker John Boehner walked away from the negotiations. His side argued that President Obama and his team moved the goalposts; others have pointed out that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Boehner that he and the GOP caucus couldn’t support any more counteroffers. But the bottom line is that Boehner walked away from the grand-bargain talks, and the White House let him walk. Now history seems to be repeating itself. After Boehner compromised last Friday to raise tax rates on income above $1 million, and after Obama compromised even further by raising his income threshold to $400,000 and putting Social Security cuts on the table, Boehner and House Republicans retreated to focus on “Plan B” — a one-sided effort to raise rates above $1 million that Democrats NOW adamantly oppose. The House vote on the measure will take place today. “Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American, 99.81% of the American people,” Boehner said yesterday. “And then the president will have a decision to make: He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in history.”

    And:

    *** Or is the White House pouting? The White House is telegraphing the fact that it wants to keep negotiating, but Republicans claim that’s purely for show and that behind the scenes the White House has refused to reach out since Boehner announced his Plan B. The big reason Boehner walked away to focus on Plan B — the White House’s refusal to lower their revenue target from $1.2 trillion. Supposedly, if the White House got closer to $1 trillion (even $1.1 trillion) and included 1-to-1 spending cuts BEFORE counting interest, Boehner would agree. Folks, if they are really thisclose and not thatfaraway, then it does seem silly they can’t bridge this gap. Still, one has to be realistic and put themselves in Boehner’s shoes and ask just what is the political upside for him to cut a deal? It’s actually not that evident.

    AND:

    *** Will Obama and Boehner see each other today? As we wrote yesterday, there is so much speculation over the motives of Plan B. Is it to gain more leverage over the White House? To kill the grand bargain? Or to make a point to House Republicans — if Plan B doesn’t pass — that they don’t have a better option than Obama’s last counteroffer. Whatever the rationale, the optics for Boehner don’t look good. Still, there’s a chance that the House speaker and Obama see each other today. (One potential opportunity could be when both men pay their respects to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye on Capitol Hill today.) But if they don’t see each other today? Well, brace yourselves for going over the cliff.

    Are we seeing a re-run of after 2008?

    Or is this a different show this time?

    fiscal cliff grapic via shutterstock.com

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